When you hear the phrase “space marine”, you’d only guess that it’s related to Games Workshop if you’re familiar with the company’s Warhammer games. After all, space marines have been featured prominently in science fiction since the 1930s and well as in major releases including the movie Aliens, the Halo series, and even Quake. Now Games Workshop, the British company famous for their tabletop combat games, has decided to try and solidify their position as the sole owner of “Space Marines” by seeking legal action against authors who use the title.
While Games Workshop owns much of the Google search results for the title, it’s a science fiction trope that dates back decades. From Bob Olsen’s Captain Brink of the Space Marines in 1932 to the nameless space marine protagonist in the Doom series, the world is filled with references to the classic science fiction trope that has nothing to do with Games Workshop. The seemingly endless supply of creative effort that the Games Workshop team have put into their Adeptus Astartes characters, including dozens of books and in game stories, is by far the most impressive collection of Space Marine related material, but should that give them the right to own the trope altogether?
For a brief time Amazon had incorrectly removed Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth from their online store after receiving a DMCA takedown notice from Games Workshop. Since takedown notices have nothing to do with trademarks — which is the only claim Games Workshop has for the phrase — there was no legitmate reason for Amazon to honor the request. After a plea from the Hogarth, the book has returned to Amazon’s digital shelves.
In the US and the UK, the trademark that Games Workshop holds only applies to games and miniatures. In Europe, the trademark applies to printed materials on any kind, which still doesn’t apply to Hogarth’s book. It’s also worth pointing out that Spots the Space Marine is a story about a Mother that bakes cookies, and couldn’t possibly threaten the Games Workshop empire in any way.
It is unlikely that this is the last we hear of Games Workshop wielding their legal ownership of the space marine trademark. The company already fights regular battles online against companies who make off-brand miniatures that drastically undercut their steep pricing. As 3D printing becomes more popular, it seems only a matter of time before 3D models of popular miniatures find their way into makerspace websites for free. Hopefully their legal battles remain in the relevant areas after this incident, and the company stops trying to take control of the space marine trope.